Seven writers on writing & perfectionism

7 Writers on Writing

I don’t believe in writer’s block.

do, however, believe perfectionism, fear, inferiority, frustration, distraction and/or existentialism can and often do contribute to a writer not writing. But none of these feelings—nor a resulting lack of productivity—are unique to writers. Why give power to the made-up concept of writer’s block?

As writers, when we’re faced with these feelings of inadequacy, we have two options: give up or power through. The latter always feels better.

These seven writers know all too well what it’s like to be plagued by self-doubt, but they also made it to the other side, and with great success. If you’re dealing with some of these feelings, take comfort in these words of geniuses—then get back to work.


 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

“There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”

– Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

“It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.”

“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

– Stephen King, On Writing

“One must be pitiless about this matter of ‘mood.’ In a sense, the writing will create the mood. If art is, as I believe it to be, a genuinely transcendental function—a means by which we rise out of limited, parochial states of mind—then it should not matter very much what states of mind or emotion we are in. Generally I’ve found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes . . . and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.”

– Joyce Carol Oates, Paris Review interview

“I believe that the so-called ‘writer’s block’ is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance… One should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.”

– William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl

“The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”

 

“You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel, and it’s not the head of a writer in the thick of it, nor the head of a professional editor who’s read it in twelve different versions. It’s the head of a smart stranger who picks it off a bookshelf and begins to read. You need to get the head of that smart stranger somehow. You need to forget you ever wrote that book.”

– Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays

“The difference between writers and critics is that in order to function in their trade, writers must live in the world, and critics, to survive in the world, must live in literature. That’s why writers in their own work need have nothing to do with criticism, no matter on what level.”

– Grace Paley, Just As I Thought

 

What are your favorite writing quotes? What gets you out of a slump?

 

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Becoming yourself

Joyce Carol Oates quote

So much has changed in the past few years, it’s hard not to think I’ve changed drastically, too.

I certainly feel different. Wiser, more thoughtful, unafraid to ask for what I want, adventure-seeking and self-loving. My younger self would be pleased. Pleasantly surprised, even.

But I think Joyce Carol Oates—fabulous woman that she is—said it best when she wrote the line above. At our core, we always remain the same. The potential for all those qualities I mentioned was always within me. It just hadn’t been realized to its fullest yet. And if that’s the case, how much more room for growth is there? I’ll play it safe and say it’s limitless—just in case it exceeds my expectations.

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P.S. Related reading: A woman to aspire to

 

Write for yourself today

Anne Lamott quote

When was the last time you just wrote?

Without aiming for perfection, without criticizing yourself throughout the process, without intending to share it on your blog or Facebook?

I’ll admit, it’s been a while for me. Now, I have a hard time tuning out the editor in me because of it. I have a lot of ideas, but before I can finish jotting down my thoughts, I find holes in the logic or realize someone else has already said the same thing, but better. (Because surely, there’s no way I might have anything to add to the subject, right?)

But then I turn to my favorite writers for guidance, find the most perfectly fitting quote for my writer’s dilemma and go on with my life. (I can always count on you, Anne Lamott.)

Today, I won’t be writing for an audience. Today, I’ll write for myself. I encourage you to do the same.

What are some of your favorite quotes from writers? And how do you deal with feelings of inadequacy?

Where to look for inspiration

When I’m at a loss for something to write about, there’s usually a very simple explanation.

It usually means I’ve been stuck in a routine for too long, hunched over a computer for too long, overworked, under-exercised and/or lacking in sleep. (Conversely, being bored can have that effect too, though since grad school took over my life, I haven’t had that problem once.)

Despite my best efforts to fill out some semblance of an editorial calendar every month, I sometimes come up short on blogging ideas—or, the ideas I jotted down before no longer interest me. Luckily, it doesn’t last too long, because I know where to look for inspiration.

where to look for inspiration

Whether you’re a blogger or not, if you sometimes suffer from a lack of inspiration, these ideas will spark your creativity:

Go through your old photos. I’m always browsing through my photos to find something to go along with a blog post, but sometimes I go through my library before writing to see if I get any new ideas. Plus, it’s always fun to reminisce on a special day or trip. (Does anyone print out photos anymore? That’s something I’d like to start doing again.)

Find quotes by your favorite authors/artists/musicians. When a quote really resonates with you, it inspires an inner dialogue, either reaffirming something you believe in a more eloquent way or challenging you to think about something differently. Write down your thoughts and don’t edit yourself.

Talk to people who are much younger or much older than you are. Nothing like a kid’s innocent honesty or a grandparent’s wise insight to completely change your perspective, right? Whether it’s an eight-year-old or an 80-year-old, there’s always something to learn from them. (That obviously goes for different races, religions and gender identities, as well.) Expand your social circle and expand your horizons.

Make a list. A bucket list. A reverse bucket list. Places you’d like to visit. Things you’re really good at. People you admire. Books you really should read. People you should really call.

Play tourist in your own city. Think you’ve seen everything there is to see? Challenge yourself to find something new. If you drive everywhere you go, commit to an afternoon of walking around—even if it’s just in one area of a spread-out town—and you’ll likely notice things you’ve never noticed before.

Get off the Internet. File this under “advice to self.”  You can only aimlessly click through the black hole that is The Web for so long before you absorb exactly nothing you’ve read, and let’s face it—you’re checking Facebook more often than is healthy or normal. Pry your claw-shaped hands off the keyboard, close the laptop and stretch your limbs in the big, open space known as “outside.”

 Have you found yourself in an inspiration rut lately? How do you pull yourself out of it?

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